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Liability in Multiple Vehicle Accidents

A multiple vehicle accident is a collision in which three or more cars are involved. Being involved in one of these accidents can be scary and confusing. If you were involved in a car crash with multiple vehicles, you may be wondering who is responsible for the damages. Although each situation is unique, there are certain indicators which can help determine who may be responsible in a multi-car accident.

Who is At Fault in a Multi-Car Accident?

With multiple parties involved, it can be difficult to determine which driver is to blame for a multi-vehicle accident. In certain cases, only one driver may be the cause of the accident, while other crashes may involve multiple at-fault parties. Generally, an insurance company or attorney must prove a driver was negligent in order for them to be considered at fault. Negligence is defined as failure to exercise the duty of care that a reasonable person would under typical circumstances. Determining negligence may be simple in some cases; for example, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs would clearly indicate negligence, as every driver has a duty to drive safely to protect others on the road. However, multi-car accidents are not always clear-cut and may require careful examination on the part of law enforcement, insurance companies, and attorneys. If you or a loved one has been involved in a multiple vehicle accident, read on to help determine which driver may be at fault, and figure out next steps.

Common Multi-Vehicle Collision Scenarios

Although it is impossible to cover every scenario involving a multiple vehicle collision, certain crashes are more common than others. See below for common scenarios and who may be at fault in each situation.

Multi-vehicle rear-end collision

Perhaps the most common type of multi-car accident is a “chain reaction” rear-end collision, in which multiple vehicles rear-end one another. While several different rear-end scenarios may occur, the rear-most driver is often considered to be at fault. They may have been following another car too closely or engaging in distracted driving, such as texting while driving or searching for something in their vehicle. In a rear-end accident with three vehicles, the rear-most driver (Car A), collides with the vehicle in front of them (Car B), which in turn hits the front-most car (Car C). In this case, the driver of Car A would most likely be at fault.

However, in a rear-end collision with three cars, there is another possibility for liability: the driver of the front-most car (Car C) may be at fault if they stopped suddenly. This could cause the driver of the vehicle in the middle (Car B) to crash into Car C, which may in turn cause Car A to crash into Car B.

Rear-end collisions may also involve four vehicles, which can complicate the question of fault and negligence. In certain cases, more than one driver may be considered at fault. For example, imagine four vehicles approaching a stop sign one after another (Cars A, B, C, and D). The third vehicle in the line (Car C) collides with the car in front of it (Car B). Because Car C has stopped suddenly, Car D also crashes into Car C, which causes all three rear vehicles to move forward, crashing into Car A in the front. While the driver of Car C will likely hold most of the blame, Car D may be considered somewhat negligent for following too closely, depending on the situation.

In both of these “chain reaction” scenarios, drivers further down the “chain”—typically those closer to the front of the chain—are more likely to have their claims rejected by insurance companies. For example, the driver of Car A in the above example may have their claim rejected by an insurance company because they would not consider Driver A to be as affected by the crash as Driver B.

In any of the cases above, insurance companies will consider police reports, eyewitness statements, and photographic evidence in order to assess a claim. This is why it is paramount to gather accurate, official information from the authorities after a multiple vehicle accident.

Multi-vehicle left-turn collision

Although less common, a multi-car accident may occur during a left turn. Similar to a rear-end collision, determining fault in this case is not always straightforward. Imagine that a driver attempts to make a left turn when they do not have the right of way and they collide with oncoming traffic from the opposite direction. State laws differ, but right-of-way laws are nearly universal, stating that when opposing traffic does not have a red light, vehicles making a left turn must yield to all other cars. Multiple vehicles may crash into each other in this scenario, and it is possible more than one of them contributed to causing the accident. For example, the driver making the left turn could be considered at fault if he did not have the right of way. However, other drivers involved could also be partially liable if they were not paying attention to the road or didn’t react in a reasonable amount of time. Because of New York’s comparative negligence law (explained below), multiple parties can be at fault in a crash. In cases like these, a jury would eventually have the responsibility of determining each driver’s percentage of fault.

Comparative Negligence

As mentioned in the above scenarios, several drivers may be considered negligent in a multi-vehicle accident. New York is a comparative negligence state, meaning that more than one driver may share a percentage of the blame for an accident. At-fault drivers will have to pay for their percentage of the damages, depending on how negligent they were. For example, in a rear-end accident where the driver in front (Driver A) is texting and stops suddenly, they will be considered primarily at fault. However, if the driver behind (Driver B) was following Driver A too closely, they may share some of the blame. In this case, Driver A may be found responsible for approximately 80% of the damages for the accident, whereas Driver B may only be responsible for 20%, and his total settlement would be reduced by that amount.

New York State specifically follows the rules of “pure” comparative negligence, meaning no matter how negligent a driver is, they can receive some amount of compensation for their injuries or damages. The amount they recover, however, will be impacted by the percentage of blame they share in the accident.

What Do I Do if I Have Been Involved in a Multi-Vehicle Accident?

If you have been involved in a car accident, there are certain steps that are important to take. While still at the accident scene, be sure to contact local law enforcement. Even in the case of a minor crash, it is important to get a police report as the evidence they collect will be key in determining which driver(s) were at fault in the collision. Police may want to collect statements from you and any passengers accompanying you, as well as the other drivers involved in the accident. They may also gather photographic evidence, and issue citations if a driver has violated a traffic law. Ask the police how you can obtain a copy of the report for your records.

If you are able to safely move around following the crash, be sure to obtain contact information from the other drivers involved. You may also want to take photos of the accident on your own to serve as evidence for your insurance company or personal injury lawyer. Take photos of damage to your vehicle, other vehicles, and any surrounding objects that may have been hit.

If necessary, be sure to seek medical attention for any injuries you have sustained from the crash. Even if you do not see evidence of serious injury right away, you may still want to check with your doctor, especially if you are feeling pain in the days following the accident. Injuries from a car accident can sometimes take days, or even weeks, to show up.

Following the immediate aftermath of the accident, you will want to file a claim with your insurance company. Be sure to provide them with any police reports, photos, and your own account of the accident. If you experienced serious injuries or damage to your car because of another driver’s negligence, you may want to file a lawsuit in order to obtain the financial compensation you are owed. In this case, contact a qualified personal injury attorney to discuss your case.

Meet With a Personal Injury Attorney Today

If you were involved in a multi-vehicle collision, contact our experienced team of attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy to get a FREE legal consultation. Call us at 212-736-5300 or fill out our contact form to get in touch. We serve New York and New Jersey.

For years, the lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy have been securing record-breaking verdicts and settlements for clients injured in car accidents.

Significant multi-vehicle accident results include:

  • $9,263,326 verdict for a client involved in a multi-vehicle rear-end collision, leading to several injuries to his spine
  • $5,000,000 settlement for a woman with aggravated pre-existing conditions following a multi-vehicle collision
  • $3,369,066 verdict for a passenger who experienced injuries to her cervical spine as a result of a multi-car rear-end collision
  • $2,500,000 settlement for a 35-year-old woman who suffered injuries requiring surgery after she was involved in a three-car rear-end collision
  • $2,450,000 settlement for a client who was rear-ended, causing him to rear-end the vehicle in front of him
  • $1,175,000 settlement for a client who underwent damages to her cervical and lumbar spine after a rear-end crash with multiple vehicles
  • $1,410,000 settlement for a couple who was rear-ended and sustained multiple spinal cord injuries

We have served clients in upstate New York, Long Island, New York City, and many New Jersey counties, including Bergen and Hudson. Dial 212-736-5300 for a free legal consultation.

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